Carl Hilliard | Crest Road
|From Sandpiper archives
Our very own Del Mar racetrack is second in popularity only to New York’s Saratoga. Its rise to prominence is a credit to Joe Harper and Craig Fravel, respectively CEO and president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club (DMTC), whose license to operate the track ends this year.
In the ‘30s, when hooves first met turf at Del Mar, horse racing had a monopoly on California’s gambling. Some 80 years later, much has changed but Horse racing is still regulated as if it were a monopoly. Proposed changes to help the horse racing industry compete in today’s international gambling market push hot political buttons.
Think horse owners are at the top of the heap? Wrong. Here’s how it works: the larger the field or number of horses in a race, the greater the handle or amount bet on a race. The overall handle determines the amount available for distribution to the winners or size of the purse awarded. Since California purses are now lower than average, many Thoroughbreds have been shipped to other states to race. It’s a vicious cycle, leaving fewer horses and smaller fields, resulting in smaller handles and reduced purses, attracting fewer horses.
States that have wised to what today’s gamblers want permit slot machines, video lottery or Instant Racing terminals at the tracks for between-races entertainment – and for much-needed revenue to supplement purses. California’s horse racing is up against opposition from anti-gambling groups and tribal casinos that so far have prevented our state from being able to prevent the decline of an industry that is important to Del Mar from a economic and historic perspective.
The DMTC reduced the number of racing days last year in order to maintain larger fields and more competitive purses, which averaged just over $550,000. Sounds good until you hear that this year New Jersey’s Monmouth Park intends to pay daily purses of $1 million on 50 live racing dates operating from May 22 through Labor Day, a considerably longer racing season than Del Mar’s.
A few months remain before Del Mar saddles up for its 71st racing season. At this point, it’s wait and see whether legislation will put horse racing on a more even playing field with other gambler options and whether the DMTC is awarded a new lease in mid-November when the State Race Track Leasing Authority, the agency responsible for leasing the Del Mar track and periodically reviewing lease operation, makes its decision.
Carl Hilliard is a Del Mar councilmember. He and his wife, Sharon, own the Thoroughbred racing stables, Mooncoinllc.